The Phillies come in hot, winning 10 of their last 14. Their offense is finally coming alive, scoring 5.4 runs per game over their last 10. They're a game back of the Mets, and seem poised to make another strong finish. No doubt they are licking their chops coming to DC as the Mets head to Milwaukee.
Here's my take on the Labor Day series opener.
When the Phillies are Up
--Don't look now, but Jayson Werth is becoming one of the better hitters in the Philadelphia line-up. The 29-year-old had his age 26 and 27 seasons ruined by wrist injuries, and lost a month to the same joint last year. This year, he's finally been healthy, and he's putting together a fantastic season. His .908 OPS noses out Burrell's for second-best on the team, behind just Utley. He takes a lot of walks, and his isolated power of .248 (a stat that basically tells you how often he gets extra base hits) is excellent. He does most of his power damage against lefties, but his on-base percentage is actually a bit better against righties. Overall, his batting average is probably a bit elevated, but a guy who can work himself into hitters counts and slug like this is for real.
--Ryan Howard's disappointing season is finally taking a turn for the better. He's hitting .1.091 OPS since we last saw him on August 21, at which point his OPS had fallen to a Lyle Overbay-like .791 for the year.
--Likewise, Jimmy Rollins has finally started to heat up as well, hitting .968 OPS since the Nationals series last week. These two guys are too good to stay as mediocre as they've been for most of this season, and the Phillies desperately need them both to finish with a tear.
--Chase Utley on the other hand has been one of the best hitters in the NL all year. The gap between him and the rest of the league at 2B is enormous.
--As good as the Phillies offense is, they get next to nothing from Pedro Feliz at third and the Chris Coste/Carlos Ruiz platoon at catcher.
--Matt Stairs was just added to the Phillies' bench. It's a nice pick-up, though it's strange to see him in the NL. And if he starts taking starts away from Jayson Werth, the Phillies will deserve whatever they get.
--Geoff Jenkins is on the DL, but he should have been on the bench a long time ago anyway.
Tim Redding: It's kind of amazing how consistently, across the board, in every way, Redding epitomizes "just a bit below average." Check it out:
- Strikeout rate: 15.0% (league average: 16%)
- Walk rate: 8.5% (average: 8%)
- Groundball rate: 40.5% (average: 42%)
- Flyball rate: 38.9% (average: 36%)
- HR/flyball: 10.9% (average: 11%)
- Strand rate: 70.7% (average: 70%)
Add it all up, and you get a 4.54 ERA, just a bit worse than the current NL average of 4.29.
Kyle Kendrick: He throws a sinker, slider and a change. He gets few strikeouts (9.7%), and walks more (8.1%) than you'd want for a guy who pitches to contact so much. But he gets enough grounders (45.5%) to be a passable fifth starter, which is more than anyone expected of him even 12 months ago.
Unless Kendrick is really on, the Nationals should see plenty of pitches to drive and draw some walks. This is a good match-up for Bonifacio to play slap-and-run, and I'd like to see Flores and Dukes get into some hitter's counts and drive the ball. Belliard should be able to take advantage as well.
--The Phillies just waived Kris Benson, who was disappointing with a 5.52 ERA in AAA this year. He might be a good guy for us to take a flier on looking ahead to next year, when Perez may be gone to free agency.
--Tom Gordon was just moved to the 60-day DL, and his career may be over. If so, he's had a long, fascinating, and sometimes brilliant career, succeeding as a starter, closer, and set-up man over 20 seasons. He's not a Hall-of-Famer, but his career deserves some special recognition.
--The Phillies bullpen looks gassed. Besides losing Gordon, Ryan Madson (63 games) has a 6.11 since July 20, and Chad Durbin (58 games) has a 5.59 ERA over his last 9 appearances.
--Brad Lidge however has continued to be spectacular. He's blowing away the competition among MLB RPs with a 4.45 WPA (WPA adds up the differences in win expectancy between the start of the play and the end of the play for all a pitcher's appearances; it's a great stat to show how much a relief pitcher is helping his team win games, or not). But he's overdue for some gopher balls. His 4.7% HR/FB rate is less than half his career rate of 12.5% and the league average of 11%. In fact, he's given up just two homers all year.
(Season Record: 18-14)
Nationals keep it going, getting at Kendrick and the bullpen, and Redding survives. Nationals, 6-4 feels right.